How to Host a Beer Tasting Even If You're A Beginner
Hosting a beer tasting doesn't have to be a complicated exercise, and by no means do you need to be an expert! In fact, all you really need are a couple of good beers and some friends with whom to share them! Beer tasting is subjective to your own tastes, and the most important thing is to enjoy yourself and to give some respect to the beautiful beer you're drinking. As with cooking - or any skill really - the more you practice, the better you'll get. So, without any extra fluff, let's dive into the four basic steps of beer tasting. (Optionally, you can follow the steps using water and dry unsalted biscuits between beers as a palate cleanser, but don't worry about this is you're just starting out.)
Step 1. Appearance
Whether you're drinking your beer from a keg, can or bottle, the first thing you're going to want to do is pour your beer into a glass. This way, we can properly evaluate the color and style of our beer, and then when we more on to step 2, all of those beautiful hop aromas will be much easier to pick out. Plus you'll be smelling the beer more like the brewer intended. For proper beer tasting, try and find yourself a glass with a nice big opening that curves in on itself. A wine glass is actually perfect for this (as wine glasses are designed for this exact reason - to help aid us perceive the aromas).
Hold the beer up to the light. Is it dark like a porter or stout? or light straw like a lager? Is it hazy, or clear? We can tell so much about the style and what malts were used before ever raising the glass to our lips. Check what style the beer says on the bottle, then look at the color. Does it match what you were thinking? You can always check the BJCP guidelines to see if the beer matches the correct style description. Once you have evaluated the beer color, write down your thoughts. The more you practice and learn the styles, the easier this will become to do from memory. Guess you'll need to do some more brewery trips to practice...
Step 2. Aroma
This is where the glassware will be arguably more important because if you try and pick up all of the beautiful aroma nuances in the beer through the top of the bottle or can, you're going to struggle. You need that big, open top to really let the aromas breathe.
Once you've evaluated the color, now is the time to give it a big sniff. What do you smell from the beer? Don't be shy - we're all able to pick up different things, so just go with what you're perceiving. Is it woody or citrusy, piney or tropical? Maybe you're getting strong malt aromas, or tobacco or chocolate? Different beers have different aromas depending on how they're made, so try tasting a few different styles and then writing down what you get from each beer so you can compare later. In this stage, it is usually going to be the hops doing most of the work for the majority of popular beer styles, so try and familiarize yourself with the different varieties. A lot of craft breweries list them on the bottle, or you can always ask your favorite brewers, or just look it up!
Step 3. Taste
Finally! We get to the part you've all been waiting for. The actual beer tasting! Pick up your glass and take a small sip, followed by a slightly larger sip. This first sip wakes up all of your taste buds and allows are tongue to properly pick up all of the flavors in the second sip. What do you taste? Is it sweet, or sour? Does it taste of caramel, or orange? It could be bready, or possibly chocolatey, or even fruity! Once again, drop down what you taste in the beer. You're also going to want to taste if it is fizzy or flat. Certain styles require more carbonation than others, but usually a flat beer isn't going to allow you to properly pick out all of those aromas and flavors in your beer.
Finally, are there any off flavors in the beer? This is more common if you're drinking home brewed beer, but mistakes can happen! If there are strange flavors lurking in the beer, or most commonly, it is sour when it shouldn't be, you've likely found some off flavors. Jot all of this down so you can review it later and compare it to your other beers.
Step 4. Your Beer tasting Score
Now we're going to take all of what we've just done and use that information to give the beer our own personal rating. Don't worry if your friends score a beer highly and you don't; all of our tastes are different. There should always only be one main question when it comes to beer, and that is 'do you like it?' If the answer is yes, then great! What you like about it? If the answer is no, what don't you like about it? All of this information will help you grow as a beer taster, and guess what? The journey of discovery is super fun, because it involves enjoying a variety of different beers!
Final Beer Tasting Tips
And that is all there is to it! Work your way through these steps using a variety of different beers and you'll soon be a beer tasting genius. I recommend starting with a few beers you like and are familiar with, as it is great practice to try and pick out what it is you like about them. Then throw in some styles you don't usually drink. Its good to expand your palette, and you might actually surprise yourself!
Finally, have fun! Beer tasting is best enjoyed with good beer and good friends, and that's all you really need. If you'd like a better way to take your beer tasting notes rather than just writing them down with pen and paper, you could try The Beer Tasting Doodle Book. It's designed for scribbling and doodling notes instead of writing them, and comes chock full of beer knowledge, terminology and space to review 50 beers. I hope this all helps you on your beer tasting journey!
Brewer, Writer, Nerd